As patients, we hear these terms all the time, but unless you’ve had personally experience with bridges and crowns, you might not know exactly what the difference is. But it’s actually very simple. A crown is a placed on a tooth in order to repair it from a fracture or to prevent a fracture, or in many cases, to resolve pain that a patient experiences when biting on a certain tooth. You can think of it as a helmet for your tooth, because it binds the remaining, healthy tooth structure together and protects the tooth from breaking catastrophically. It takes two appointments about one to two weeks apart to make a crown. At the first appointment, we prepare the tooth, place a temporary crown, and make a digital scan of the tooth which is sent to a lab. The lab then makes the crown using natural looking materials like porcelain or zirconia. At the second appointment, the crown is cemented to the tooth after we ensure that it has the desired fit and appearance.
Bridges are very similar, and we use many of the same techniques to make bridges as we do to make crowns. A bridge is used to replace a missing tooth, and uses the teeth next to the missing tooth in order to hold the bridge in place. In most cases, you can think of a bridge as three crowns connected together- the first one is placed on top of the tooth behind the missing tooth, the second one replaces the missing tooth, and the third one is placed on top of the tooth in front of the missing tooth. Bridges are great for replacing teeth when patients already have crowns or big fillings on either side of the missing tooth, or in situation where we can’t place dental implants. Like crowns, bridges also require two separate appointments.
It’s much easier to tell the difference in photographs. The first one is a crown, which fits over top of one tooth. The second one is a three-unit bridge, which replaces one missing tooth using the two teeth next to the missing one.